By RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
Creating highly unusual and beautiful art from discarded objects, household items and simple materials has lead Bend artist Jennifer Poncia to discover her true passion: working with children. When a deep grieving period in her life prompted Poncia dive into the artistic process, she discovered not only how healing art was in her life, but also in the lives of children.
“It wasn’t until I had been living in Bend for a few years that I came face to face with how important my art was to me,” she said. “After the losses of two people close to my heart, I felt desperate to reconnect with home, the past and a time I felt most free. I came home one night and stood in the doorway of the garage. The strongest desire to sculpt something came over me… I scanned the garage stacked with a few empty cardboard boxes and random pieces of plywood…[and] began shaping, molding and creating wall reliefs, each with its own story.”
Through teaching classes, workshops and working with kids in Camp Courage (an art camp designed for children to learn how to express feelings of loss and grief), Poncia believes she has found her true calling. “When you work with people who are going through the grieving process, you let it [the artistic process] happen, you let it be. It was a tremendous experience for me to go through myself and realize the end result isn’t necessarily the most important part,” she said. “I found that the most amazing moments are right there, being there helping and observing.”
Drawing on a rich family history, Poncia taps into stories, folktales and traditions to infuse her pieces with the familiarity so important to her process. She creates “expressions in form” with simple materials. Cardboard, wood, wire and scraps are turned into works rich with symbolism and story. “The big thing is keeping it simple as a process and making it highly unusual and beautiful from what you have at arm’s length.”
She began displaying her work publicly with her participation in three City Walls at City Halls exhibitions. In Growing::Up, she created The Power to Engage. In Bonding::Walls, her art represented block ten of Bond Street, The Space Between a Bonded Block, and in the current show, Inside::Out, Poncia has created Mille Friends. Her partnership with the group, 1000 Friends of Oregon, inspired her to create a piece based on the relationship between the urban and rural, the individual and community.
Poncia is in a time of transition in her personal life. “I moved, and for the first time in a long time I don’t have a studio and space. What does that mean for me?” she asked herself. “The most important part right now is working with children, it trumps even my own art, and I am trying to come to terms with that. Where am I going to teach and how am I going to work this out? I don’t know, but I am exactly where I need to be.”
She imagines an art curriculum for children dealing with trauma or grief. “I would like to develop the projects I have to be able to take children through a whole journey…tapping into childhood and growing up issues.” Poncia is also exploring creating children’s books based on her art and the stories that have inspired it.
Poncia finds the most resonance in her piece entitled, Oh, The Sweetness of Life’s Opportunities. Created during the last year of her grandmother’s life, life’s opportunities became an important theme. “The lollipops are life events. We might not like what we get, but we have to make due,” she said. “Over 500 kids have put their hands on this piece…and everyone has their own interpretation. It is amazing that I can create something and someone can have a thought or emotional reaction about it.
“I would love to see kids bringing life to pieces of out what would end up in landfills or stacked in a garage. Being a catalyst for art that is being created is something that I want to do all the time. It is now about me trying to find out how to make that work.”